The feast of Christmas was introduced in the Christian calendar in 354 A.D. by Emperor Constantine. In the first centuries Christians celebrated only Easter, called “the Day of the Sun” because it marked Christ’s Resurrection. In ancient Rome December 25 marked the festival of the winter solstice and of the approaching Spring. It was a celebration marked by sheer joy, because the sun started to shine again. Christians renamed this pagan festivity for faith in Jesus “Sun of Justice” who came to visit us from the heavens to enlighten those who live in the darkness and in the shadows of death (Cf. Jn1).
Christmas is a beam of light that brings us back memories of love, childhood and family. We all have Christmas stories to share: the gifts, the tree, the manger, the lights, Santa Klaus, shopping centers – lit streets, homes and windows highlight and reveal its importance. Too many activities – preparations, hastened paces – make us forget the guest of honour: Jesus Christ. The Emmanuel, God with us, who divided history into B.C and A.D. The pagan origins of the celebration always pose a threat to the deconsecration of Christmas, and precisely for this reason it is important to remember and clarify that Christmas means “the birth of Jesus.” Thus by wishing a merry Christmas we are wishing “the merry rebirth in Jesus.”
1- Prepare for Christmas: the time of Advent exhorts us to be prepared for the arrival of the Lord through vigilance, prayer, conversion and charity. Preparation for Christmas means going to confession, placing greater efforts in prayer and in acts of charity towards the needy.
2- Prepare the manger: God is not born in hearts that are sealed or turned to stone. God knocks but he never enters unless the door is opened from the inside. That is why the real manger of Jesus is found in your heart when it is a welcoming, forgiving and loving heart. “Prepare the nativity scene for me also in your family because for me no nativity scene is more beautiful than that of a family gathered in prayer, united in love, firm in fidelity, where each sees my face in the other person.”
3- Honour my mother and my Father: Mary and Joseph are my family. Honour my mother that I donated you as mother from the height of the cross. Honour Joseph who cherished me and taught me so much, even with his eloquent and orating silence. Remember that the true devotion you can offer my parents is to honour your parents and grandparents, especially when they are old.
4- Leave me an empty seat at your table: be generous and don’t conceal your fears and avarice behind prejudice and false excuses. Learn to see me in every person that is hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned and sick. Don’t postpone acts of goodness to a tomorrow that will never come and never feel satiated if your brother has no bread.
5- Live my Christmas with your dear ones: halt the pace of your frenetic life and reorganize the pyramid of what is valuable in your life. Don’t let yourself be enslaved by perishable objects, by work, or by superficial things. Find the time to play with your children, to speak with your dear ones, to go out with your family. I was born in the cold but the warmth of my family saved me from the freezing cold around me. Only the warmth of the family has the power to warm our hearts.
6- Reconcile with others: there is no Christmas without forgiveness. It’s useless to decorate your home, your garden and your street with trees and lights if rancour and resentment prevail. Divest yourself of hate through love; of resentment through forgiveness; of adversity through reconciliation; of hostility through amiability. Those who forgive are more enriched than those who are forgiven.
7- Do not be ashamed of my Christmas: do not take the name of Christmas in vain by transforming it into a pagan festivity. Learn from John the Baptist to be a voice that cries out to make the way for my arrival in the desert of the world. Do not be afraid to say that this celebration is called Christmas, not Santa Klaus. Removing my name will never be a sign of respect for non-believers; it will indicate the shame of the faithful. A lot is said of my birth but I am not remembered. I am speechless when I see the shrewd commercial exploitation of my festivity without mentioning me. I say to you, do not do it.
8- Don’t give impure or useless gifts: the culture of materialism and trade has transformed my birthday into infinite numbers of gift packages of all sorts. Before countless possibilities, giving presents has become a burden for the giver and the receiver alike. How many useless objects fill our homes and occupy spaces for years! Learn to make gifts by preferring simplicity to brand names, useful to costly items. Free yourself from superfluous ornaments and share the objects that you don’t use with those who need them. “Christmas Gift Suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. (Oren Arnold).
9- Remember to sanctify the eve and the day of my Birth: it hurts to see the faithful hectically preparing the Christmas Eve dinner while being equally disinterested in finding the time to sanctify my arrival in the world. I must remind you: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 41 – 42).
10- Remember the elderly: Christmas is a time of joy but it is also a time of memory, and memory becomes a whip on the backs of those who after a long life are left alone, abandoned and forgotten even by their own children. Thus commit yourself to donate all the warmth you were given when you needed it. Make the gift of a phone call or a short visit, it will be the most beautiful present you can give me.
Open your heart to true light. The light that illuminates and has the power to transform us comes from within; the light of goodness that wins over evil; the light of love that overcomes hate, the light of life that defeats death.
What I am asking you is to transform my Christmas in your birthday for a generous and fruitful life.
And thus, I too, wish you a Merry Christmas!
(*) personal secretary of Pope Francis